Friday, May 26, 2017

The war on dust

Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if we collectively gave up on dust. What if we just let the city sink under the dust for a whole month, or even a year?

The other day, I was out walking, and may have spotted a demo version of such an eventuality. The pavement lay fractured and unswept. Dust had settled in so firmly that although it was made of coloured paving blocks, everything looked a uniform shade of dull brown. It ran parallel to a divider which had been prettied up with some green plants. But, dust lay so thick on each leaf that the plants too wore a vomitous shade of dun. Sheets of metal lay around covered in grey dust. An old scooter was parked nearby, also covered in dust. The scene suggested decay, abandonment, despair, and it was infinitely depressing.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


A couple of decades ago, however, someone high up in the municipal corporation of Mumbai must have decided to try something new. Interlaced paver blocks were rumoured to be a better idea than concrete or tarred roads. Some people joked that the politicians who pushed for this change probably had relatives who had set up paver block factories. Who knows?

I have to admit that I was pleased to see paver blocks for totally impractical reasons. They made for interesting shapes and colours. I liked looking at the geometrical patterns unfolding under my feet, and a road or pavement or walkway could be terracotta red or yellow. I kept hoping that the authorities would get more inventive and ask for more colours to be embedded into the design – green, blue, black, teal. Why not? Just imagine, what if entire stretches of road could be made into designer works of art? Paver blocks could be set in different colours to make images or portraits. One could embed messages in the shape of words. At the very least, the street could tell us its own name. If we got really creative, we could leave capsules of history strewn about the city. Suburb by suburb, street by street, we could learn to remember where we were, and how we got here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Some questions for Mr Kejriwal

Just a few days ago, I was having a cup of coffee with a friend and like all good Indians, we discussed politics. Lots of breast-beating (metaphorical, of course). We discussed you: AAP as an alternative and you as the last round of ammunition in the nation’s democratic belt.

I had my doubts, but it was not on account of electoral setbacks. For a new political outfit, one without a lot of money backing it, AAP did alright in Punjab and Goa. You didn’t "lose" ’em because you didn’t have ’em to begin with. My doubts were about your values.

My friend argued, what do I know about your values? How could I judge?

I was judging you as I judge all politicians - through statements and silences, through action and inaction.

I noticed you doing good viz health and education, electricity and water. You are trying to fix a deeply unequal system and I respect that. But sometimes I wonder if you are committed to core constitutional values. Freedom of religion, speech, choice. Justice: social, economic and political. Equality. You talk the talk. Do you intend to walk it?

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Triple the Trouble

Women of all religions should worry. A majority government can change laws so that women no longer inherit land, widows no longer remarry, divorce is no longer permissible.

Already, some states restrict freedom of faith by preventing citizens from converting to other religions. Our freedom to eat and drink what we want has been legally curtailed.

No government has passed laws making inter-caste and inter-community marriage easier. The Constitution has been subverted repeatedly.

As far as Muslim women are concerned, ladies, you need to up your game and start fighting in earnest. Feel free to follow a set of civilian laws if you want, for no force is permitted in your religion. But if you follow religious law, learn to make it work for you.

Fight. But don’t just stop at triple talaq. That is a tiny problem. The big problem is independence.

Read this column on Triple Talaaq and Indian Muslim women's struggle to get rid of it:

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The TT and UCC conversation

I had shared some thoughts on the debate around Triple Talaaq and Uniform Civil Code with the newspaper Sakaal Times: 

- Women are not paid wages if they work alongside their husbands or within the household. So if a marriage collapses, they have no money or house of their own. This is true for Hindu women too. The right to inherit property for Hindu daughters is a recent development. It took many decades of fighting orthodox and conservative elements within Hindu society.

- Marriage and divorce are finally personal matters, and cannot be legislated beyond a point. What the state needs to do is to secure individual freedoms and offer greater safety nets for all citizens, regardless of religion or gender.

On the Uniform Civil Code:

The problem is not that the Modi government wants Uniform Civil Code but that they want Muslim marital laws to be the same as Hindu upper caste/ Brahmin laws. Even the laws governing Hindu marriages are actually not reflective of all traditions. After all, divorce was freely available and common among many tribal communities that broadly fall under the umbrella of ‘Hindu’. The British had to legislate and codify laws only because upper caste Hindu groups did not allow divorce, or widow remarriage, etc. Polygamy and polyandry, both are a part of Indian cultural history.

You can read the interview version here
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